Jamaica country brief


Jamaica is a single island located in the Greater Antilles in the north west of the Caribbean region.  Its closest neighbours are Haiti, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. With a population of 2.8 million (2013) and with one of the higher GDPs in the region, Jamaica plays an important role in the Caribbean.  It is a senior member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – the region's key political institution - and was among the first countries to join the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME).

Australia's High Commissioner in Port of Spain, holds non-resident accreditation to Jamaica.  Australia also maintains a resident Honorary Consul in Jamaica.  Australia maintained its first and only diplomatic mission to the Caribbean in Jamaica from 1974 - 1994.  Australia has a relatively small population of approximately 941 migrants (2011 Census) of Jamaican descent.

Political overview

Jamaica achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962.  It now functions as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, a Governor-General as representative of the Monarchy and Prime Minister as Head of Government.

Political System

Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system with a bicameral parliament.  The House of Representatives contains 63 single-member constituencies elected for five-year terms.  The Prime Minister is the head of the party with the most members elected to the House of Representatives.  The Senate comprises 21 members appointed by the Governor-General: 13 on advice of the Prime Minister, eight on advice of the Leader of the Opposition.  Between two and four members of the Cabinet must be drawn from the Senate.  The Judiciary comprises a Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the Governor General on advice of the Prime Minister.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated in April 2005 to replace the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal in the CARICOM region.  The CCJ hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.  Jamaica is still in a process of transitioning to the CCJ and as of January 2014, legislation had not yet been passed for it to act in its appellate Jurisdiction.  Countries under the jurisdiction of the CCJ include Barbados, Belize, and Guyana.

Bilateral Relations

The Australia-Jamaican bilateral relationship is underpinned by sporting links, and joint membership of various international organisations including the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

Regionally, the Australian Government has sought to strengthen its ties with the Caribbean, and formally established relations with the Caribbean Community through a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2009.  The MOU builds on areas of mutual interest including the promotion of foreign and economic policies, disaster risk reduction, economic resilience, and people-to-people and institutional linkages.

From 2010 to 2014 Australia provided $60 million in official development assistance to the Caribbean region.  A total of 21 Jamaican scholars have benefited from the scholarship program.  In addition, seven Foreign Service Officers participated in the Diplomatic Training Program, delivered through a joint collaboration between the University of West Indies and the Australian National University.  Three Jamaicans were also awarded Australian Award Fellowships.  The regional program has now closed, though some activities that have already been funded will continue until 2018.

Economic Overview

Historically, Jamaica's economy has been based on key primary industry exports including bananas and sugar.  In the 1940's, large commercial deposits of bauxite, limestone, bauxite, gypsum, marble, silica sand and clays were discovered, and by the 1970s, Jamaica became a world leader in the export of many of these minerals. Jamaica competes with Australia in alumina/bauxite production.  The mining sector was one of the most adversely affected in the global financial crisis.

Jamaica's economy is heavily dependent on services, which account for nearly 80 per cent of GDP.  The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism and remittances, each accounting for about 30 per cent of GDP.

Trade accounts for around 50 per cent of GDP.  Jamaica imports most of the goods it consumes, leading to consistent trade deficits of around 20 per cent of GDP. Exports of bauxite make up roughly 5 per cent of GDP.  Other exports include ethanol, cane sugar, alcoholic beverages, coffee, scrap metal, cyclic compounds and manioc. Jamaica's main trading partner is the United States (52 per cent of total trade).  Others include Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Canada, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Japan.

Jamaica's prolonged public debt, currently at around 141.6 per cent of GDP (2014), along with high crime rates, continue to hamper growth.  The unemployment rate in Jamaica is at about 13.4 per cent (March 2014) while youth unemployment is more than twice the national rate.  Jamaica is also contending with broader social problems including drug trafficking and street violence.

Despite being one of the larger economies in the Caribbean region, real per capita GDP growth averaged just one per cent per year in the last 30 years, making Jamaica one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world.

In 2013, the International Monetary Fund approved a four-year assistance loan of approximately US$932 million, conditional on the government undertaking economic reforms.  The government faces the challenge of having to achieve fiscal discipline to maintain debt payments while simultaneously attacking a serious crime problem that is hampering economic growth.  The World Bank expects Jamaica to grow by 1 to 2 per cent over the medium term.


Since 2005, Jamaica has been party to Venezuela's Petro-Caribe scheme that provides preferential or deferred payment options for purchasing oil.  In the Caribbean region, only Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have not signed onto the agreement.

Jamaica continues to play a leading role in the promotion of regional market integration.  In January 2006, the CSME came into effect, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between CARICOM countries (except the Bahamas and Haiti, which have not joined the CSME) and the free movement of certain categories of labour.  The Caribbean Court of Justice, sitting in its original jurisdiction, acts as a CSME disputes mechanism.  Further information on the CSME can be found on the Caribbean webpage.

Trade and Investment

In 2013, the total two-way trade with Jamaica was approximately A$10 million. Australia's exports to Jamaica mainly comprised meat.  Main imports from Jamaica were alcoholic beverages.  For the latest economic data, please refer to the Jamaica fact sheet.

High Level Visits

July 2014 - Australia's G20 Special Representative Daniel Sloper visited Jamaica.

Last Updated: 4 March 2013